Rafael Nadal embraces his career-worst clay-court streak!

Rafael Nadal experienced early losses in Rome and Paris

by Jovica Ilic
Rafael Nadal embraces his career-worst clay-court streak!
© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Rafael Nadal has been the most dominant clay-courter in the Open era, notching a 479-49 score and lifting 63 ATP trophies on the slowest surface. Nadal played his first ATP match on clay in Mallorca 2002 at 15. Twenty-two years later, the king of clay is still active on his beloved surface, doing everything to regain composure following a severe hip injury that ruined his progress at the beginning of 2023.

Alongside numerous records by his name, Rafa had never lost back-to-back clay-court matches before this spring! It all changed in the last couple of weeks in Rome and Paris, experiencing early losses at his beloved tournaments and embracing his career-worst streak on his dominant surface after only two defeats!

The veteran celebrated three wins in Madrid before traveling to Rome, one of his move favorite stops on the calendar. Rafa prevailed over Zizou Bergs in the first round and arranged the clash against a top-10 rival, Hubert Hurkacz.

Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2024© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

The Pole enjoyed a comfortable day at the office and ousted the king of clay 6-1, 6-3 in an hour and 33 minutes. Thus, Nadal suffered one of his worst defeats on clay, struggling on serve and return and propelling Hurkacz through.

Hurkacz served at 54% and denied all seven break points, five in the opening game of the encounter. The veteran served at 72%, but it did not help him, losing almost half of the points in his games and getting broken four times.

Hubert landed 23 winners and 22 unreturned serves, spraying only ten unforced errors and taming his strokes nicely. Nadal hit 20 unforced errors, struggling from his forehand and standing inferior from the baseline. Rafa stayed in touch in the mid-range and most extended exchanges, while Hubert forged his win in the shortest range up to four strokes.

Nadal made a push on the return in the first game, generating five break points.

Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2024© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Rafael Nadal is on a two-match losing streak on clay.

Hurkacz stayed composed and denied them, firing a service winner to bring the game home and avoid an early upset.

Rafa played against two break points in the second game, saving them and leveling the score at 1-1 after 27 minutes of grueling tennis! The Pole held at love for 2-1 and made a push on the return, securing a break after the Spaniard's poor drop shot and opening a 3-1 advantage.

Rafa could not find his strokes in the sixth game, suffering another break and falling 5-1 behind. Hurkacz served for the opener in game seven and offered Nadal two break chances. The Pole saved them and held with a forced error for 6-1 after 49 minutes.

Hubert produced one good hold after another in the second set, pressuring the ten-time champion. Rafa sprayed a backhand error in the third game and faced a break point. Hubert seized it with a lucky net cord forehand down the line winner, moving a set and a break in front.

Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2024© Clive Mason / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Hurkacz held at love for 3-1, and they served well in the upcoming four games. The Spaniard served to stay in the match at 3-5 and hit a loose forehand, losing serve and propelling his rival through.

Rafa wished for a better run at his beloved Roland Garros, but the tennis gods have other plans! Nadal met the Rome Masters champion and world no. 4 Alexander Zverev in the first round, suffering a 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 defeat and losing back-to-back matches on clay for the first time in a career.

Nadal gave his best to challenge an in-form rival, staying on the court for over three hours but falling in straight sets after missing his chances in the second. Thus, the king of clay experienced his earliest Roland Garros defeat in what could be his last appearance in the French capital.

Zverev served at 77% and outplayed Nadal behind the first serve. The German clinched 45% of the return points and turned them into six breaks from 18 opportunities.

Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2024© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Rafa converted two out of 11 break points, insufficient to take at least a set.

The veteran fired 34 winners and 30 unforced errors, while his rival counted 44 direct points. Alexander had the upper hand in the shortest and most advanced exchanges, earning a notable win and becoming the third player to beat Rafa at Roland Garros.

Zverev broke at love in the first game of the encounter and closed the opener with another return game on his tally at 5-3. Nadal responded with a break in the fifth game of the second set, forging the advantage and serving for the set in game ten.

Alexander broke back at love and saved two break points in game 11 to introduce a tie break. The German claimed it 7-5, opening two sets to love advantage and moving closer to the finish line. Rafa saved break points in the first game and delivered a break a few minutes later, eager to fight until the end.

Zverev broke back in game three and missed four break chances two games later. The German clinched a break in the seventh game and defended break points in the next one, moving 5-3 in front and keeping the pressure on the Spaniard.

Nadal served to stay in the match in game nine and suffered a break at 15, ending his Roland Garros campaign and embracing his career-worst streak on clay.

Rafael Nadal